The US Senate has just come out in favour of a proposed $900m package of anti-drugs aid for Colombia. Since coca production has quadrupled in recent years, that sounds admirable. Who could be against attempts to crack down on cocaine?
The word "aid" is, however, misleading. This package is, above all, about military spending the last thing that Colombia now needs. In the Cold War era, Washington cheerfully stoked murderous violence in Latin America on behalf of "democracy". It is regrettable that such madness has not been entirely left behind. Washington's proposed aid package includes 60 Huey helicopters to fight against "narcoterrorists", used as a synonym for Colombia's left-wing rebel force, the 17,000-strong Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc).
In reality, some of the most powerful drug-trafficking gangs are, however, associated with right-wing paramilitaries, who are responsible for some of the country's worst violence, which included more than 400 massacres last year.
Washington must finally abandon the Rambo-style delusion that military hardware can solve all the problems of the world. The Colombian government, which is about to begin a new round of peace talks with Farc, knows that Colombia needs help but not with more violence. The country's president, Andres Pastrana, has been eager to broker a treaty to end the war that has claimed 35,000 lives in the past decade. The war on drugs will only make sense if it is seen in a much broader context.
At a meeting in London to discuss Plan Colombia, British and other EU officials argued this week for more emphasis on economic and social assistance. But the pleas seem to have fallen on deaf American ears. This, despite the fact that the US appetite for cocaine has helped to make the trade so profitable. If Colombia is not to spiral further into violent decline, some kind of sustainable alternative to coca must be offered. Destroying farmers' livelihoods will help nobody.
Colombia needs support in its attempts to rebuild a civil society. The country suffered 23,000 killings last year alone; 300,000 fled because of the climate of violence. Farc controls a theoretically demilitarised zone ("Farclandia") in the south. But a sense of anarchy pervades the country. Washington wants Mr Pastrana to accept military aid instead of the Marshall Plan he had hoped for. But the EU owes it to Colombia to ensure that more thought goes into addressing the problems. Colombia needs the world's help; it does not need more guns.
© 2000 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd.